Most motorists see nothing good about high-priced fuel and traffic congestion.
But for some Georgia and Tennessee officials, the commuters’ headaches could be driving forces for change to improve transportation, cut travel time and break America’s dependence on oil.
“Four dollars a gallon changes the political will. It allows politicians to be courageous sometimes and do what we need to do,” Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, Ga., told the Chattanooga Technology Council on Wednesday.
“In our country and our state, Georgia, we are at least 50 years behind where we need to be when it comes to alternative modes of transportation.”
He said a magnetic levitation (maglev) train is of great interested to the Chattanooga area and “should have been done 10 years ago, easily.”
As chairman of Georgia’s Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Mullis has led efforts to resolve Atlanta’s traffic congestion, link Atlanta to Chattanooga and help solve problems at both cities’ airports.
HOW IT WORKS
A magnetic levitation train uses the repulsive forces of electromagnetic fields to “levitate” the train above the track. A magnetized coil runs along the track, or guideway, and repels magnets on the undercarriage of the train. A current is passed through and can push or pull the train along with no friction.
He said the maglev or some other type of high-speed rail transportation is a feasible solution.
An $8 million feasibility study on a high-speed rail route between Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, funded by Georgia, the federal government and private businesses, is expected to be complete next year, Sen. Mullis said.
He said the announcement of the $1 billion Volkswagen plant for Chattanooga should help those supporting a magnetic levitation train, Sen. Mullis said.
“It’s a great victory for the whole region,” Sen. Mullis said, noting 42 percent of the work force in Northwest Georgia is employed in Chattanooga. “We are in this together; if we can find ways to work together, we will be better off.”
The magnetic levitation train is fast, efficient, safe and low-maintenance but is it very expensive, according to representatives from Tennessee’s Department of Transportation and The Enterprise Center, which recently completed a feasibility study of a high-speed rail line between Chattanooga and Nashville.
The success of either project will likely depend upon support from the federal government, said Joe Ferguson, chairman of EPB of Chattanooga, and a special projects member of the Enterprise Center, who spoke after Sen. Mullis.
“We have to face that we’ll have a problem in the coming years in retaining the type of mobility we are accustomed to,” Mr. Ferguson said. “We need people who can be visionary. What would have happened if (President) Eisenhower had not pressed forward with the interstate system?”
He said awareness is growing at the regional and national levels about the need for alternative modes of transportation.
A Chattanooga-to-Nashville route would have to be built after a Chattanooga-Atlanta route to assure sufficient ridership, Mr. Ferguson said. He said there is a great deal of support for a western rail route, he added.
Area resident Jim Olson said he was not a maglev train supporter before Wednesday’s meeting in the new EPB building in downtown Chattanooga. But, after listening to the presentations, he said he will give it more thought.
“We are so used to cheap fuel,” Mr. Olson said. “But 50 years from now we are not all going to just be able to get in our cars and go where we want to.”